So, I'm reading this book "Look Me in the Eye - My Life with Aspergers" written by John Elder Robison. He's a man who lived the first 40 years of his life as a "social misfit" not knowing why he was different from others and the struggles he faced because of it. At 40 he was finally diagnosed with Aperger's Syndrome (a syndrome that is on the Autism spectrum ... and is very similar to Nonverbal Learning Disorder which Matt has).
Last night I read a chapter on small talk where John talks about the problem that he has with conversing with others. Small talk is something that people with Asperger's and NLD people have great difficulty with because it's just not logical and factual. He talked about talking with a female friend. The friend says to him "One of my girlfriends is having an affair and the guy rides a motorcycle just like yours." He then goes into his thought process in coming up with an appropriate response to that statement.
A neuro-typical person might have been curious about the affair, but would have realized that the focus of the statement was the motorcycle and would have responded accordingly. After going through various responses in his mind, none of which really had anything to do with the motorcycle, the responses he came up with varied from "is she saying I should have an affair because I have a motorcycle" to "should I know this guy because he is only one of 5% of people who ride motorcycles?" In a mater of moments he needed to decide what he thought was the best response which ended up being "Which girlfriend is that" and then was surprised that his friend found that too intrusive. (myself, I thought he chose the best of all the responses that he went through in his mind.)
So, this morning I was talking to Matt about the book and about small talk. I told him about the author's difficulty reading the statement. I posed the statement to Matt in the tone of voice that it was said in that social setting. After a few seconds pause (where I could see that he, himself, was going though his options in his mind) came up with his response to the statement. "what does a motorcycle have to do with your friend having an affair."
I tried to get him to see that the purpose of the statement was the motorcycle, not the affair and that the response should be about the bike. After a few more minutes of our conversation, he still didn't get it.
John finishes the chapter with a very intersting point:
"My conversational difficulties highlight a problem Aspergians (and I'll add NLD people) face everyday. A person with an obvious disability - for example, someone in a wheelchair - is treated compassionately because his handicap is obvious. No one turns to a guy in a wheelchair and says, "Quick! let's run across the street!" And when he can't run across the street, no one says, "What's his problem?" They offer to help him across the street.
With me, though, there is no exteral sign that I am conversationally handicapped. So folks hear some converational misstep and say, "What an arrogant jerk!" I look forward to the day when my handicap will afford me the same respect accorded to the guy in a wheelchair. And if the respect comes with a preferred parking space, I won't turn it down."
I'm sure Matt will look forward to that day too.